Chicago's Worker Center Movement: A Structural Analysis
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The emergence of the worker center movement has served as a novel approach to organizing workers in the low-wage labor sector. It is in this space that innovative strategies have developed to organize the "unorganizable." This research contributes to the literature by examining and developing a conceptual understanding of this organizing process through in-depth, semi-structured interviews with 18 worker center organizers at eight worker centers in the Chicago metropolitan area. Data collected was analyzed using a modified grounded theory approach to understand the dimensions, properties, context, actions and their consequences related to the process of organizing vulnerable workers across a variety of low-wage industries and throughout distinct communities in the Chicagoland region. Utilizing a conceptual framework informed by Structural Social Work, this study explores the organizing process through the lens of the organizer both as an individual within a worker center supporting vulnerable workers as well as a contributor to the worker center movement in Chicago. Findings outlined in three chapters include a brief oral history of the emergence of a worker center movement in Chicago dating back to 1969, an examination of oppression at a personal, cultural, and structural level of this vulnerable workforce as articulated by the participants, and an examination of the worker center as a space for resistance to structural oppression present in the lives of vulnerable workers as well as personal development and support for the individuals seeking assistance.
structural social work